Aug 2006

Blair, Blears and ting

I switched on the TV a couple of days ago and caught a few seconds of Tony Blair’s foreign policy speech… the one delivered in Los Angeles. I’d missed the first third of it, but planned to listen to the rest. Unfortunately the very first thing I heard him say was how militant Islam “resembles in many ways early revolutionary Communism”. At that moment I weighed up the cost of a new television against my desire to watch Blair deliver a speech, and went for a walk instead.

You couldn’t make it up. Blair raising the spectre of Reds Under The Beds during a policy speech in America…? I know I say this all the time, but our political leaders are all turning into minor characters in a Thomas Pynchon novel. Or maybe it’s the ghost of Hunter S. Thompson fucking with our heads. Take thanatoid Ortho Bob from Pynchon’s Vineland for instance. I don’t know exactly why, but when I read this description I just can’t help but think of Dubya Bush…

Ortho Bob came lurching over, looking as awful as the night he must have spent, wanting to talk some more about his case. He had been damaged in Vietnam, in more than one way, from the list of which he always carefully – though it might only have been superstitiously – excluded death. There were items enough on his get-even agenda, relief for none of which was available through regular channels.

Ortho Bob isn’t Bush… well, not directly anyways… but that last line completely sums up how I feel whenever I see Dubya. He’s got the same look in his eyes that Ortho Bob has as he lurches across the Zero Inn to Takeshi’s table.

Political funding

To other things… I notice over at Justin’s place an issue has arisen which finds me, unusually, in complete disagreement with the boy. No, not that Hazel Blears must be stopped. As a general rule, who could argue with that? It’s just that – in one of those monkeys and typewriters moments – Blears is actually backing a sound principle in this case.

Blears view, as I see it, is that political parties should be funded through the public purse (aside: I’ve got my media player on shuffle and Taxman by The Beatles has just this minute come on). And while I do completely see Justin’s points when he decries such an idea, I nonetheless believe that public funding is the lesser of evils.

Now, before I explain why, could I just put in the standard disclaimer about how I actually don’t believe representative democracy is a good way to run things in the first place, and how if I were made God Emperor there’d be some pretty damn radical restructuring, and the phrase Anarcho-Syndicalist Utopia would enter the common lexicon. So yeah, this is very much an exercise in deckchair rearrangement as far as I’m concerned.

Here’s the thing… we clearly live in an era where parties with better funding do better in elections. I’ll not go into my standard rant about how badly our poor ol’ apebrain deals with mass media advertising, but I’m assuming it’s an uncontroversial point that high levels of funding relative to your opponents gives an advantage in a modern election. And this advantage could very well be a decisive one in close contests.

The trouble is; that’s profoundly undemocratic. Which is a bit crap if your aim is to run things democratically. It all but forces political parties to pander to the business community and the wealthy. There may be a lot more of the poor, but they tend not to set aside a large slice of the household budget for political donations. Maybe back in the days of mass unionisation… but harking back to a past golden age is the job of The Right, so let’s not kid ourselves, eh?

If we place a political party or an independent politician in the position of relying upon donations for their political survival, we cannot blame them for seeking out the biggest donations. And while we may despair that parties seem to represent those who finance them above those who vote for them, we are surely not surprised about it. How on earth could it turn out otherwise given what we all know about the average human capacity to resist temptation?

On the other hand, if you deny all funding to politicians except a ration from the public purse based upon the number of votes they receive… they’ll still end up representing the people who pay for their campaigns, but now those people are their voters.

Yes, this is a very very simple sketch… safeguards would have to be introduced to prevent the entrenchment of power (because that’s not already happening, right?) and the active exclusion of smaller parties. There’s also the ethical dilemma of having extremist parties being funded by the public, no matter how “democratic” the formula that calculates the level of funding.

Still, I see it as self-evidently more democratic than the current system which forces politicians to choose between representing those who vote for them and those who pay for them. Just so we’re clear though… down with democracy! It’s a godawful way to run a civilisation in decline.

Rob Newman’s History of Oil & Ting

Speaking of civilisations in decline, via Gyrus at Dreamflesh comes a link to Rob Newman’s vaudevillesque political screed “History of Oil”. It’s both funny and informative. I’d heard a radio broadcast of it before, but it’s greatly enhanced by the visuals. Watch it at Google Video.

Oh yeah, a couple of other links. Ken MacLeod has returned after a prolonged break with a hard-hitting piece on the Israel-Lebanon conflict. Well worth a read. Meanwhile over at David Byrne’s journal he talks about US Christian fundamentalism in terms usually used to discuss militant Islam. I’ll bet he gets some interesting hate mail.

Posted in: Opinion